CASUAL CORNER BUYS VITTADINI FROM DE V&P

Byline: David Moin

NEW YORK — Entering the bridge market in a quest to revive a prestigious brand name, The Casual Corner Group Inc. has purchased Adrienne Vittadini from the bankrupt de V&P Inc., WWD has learned.
The deal, which includes the trademark, contracts and assets, was finalized in bankruptcy court in Manhattan on Monday, reportedly for $8.5 million.
Casual Corner, which operates about 1,000 moderate- to better-priced specialty stores around the country, plans to gradually roll out Adrienne Vittadini stores, emphasizing what Vittadini was best known for in its Eighties heyday — luxurious classic knitwear. Vittadini represents a step-up on the price spectrum for Enfield, Conn.-based The Casual Corner Group, but the company said it will source all the merchandise in-house, including knits and other sportswear and accessories, as it does with goods sold only at The Casual Corner Group stores. The company also plans to wholesale Adrienne Vittadini products.
Currently, only women’s shoes are sold under the Vittadini label, at stores such as Nordstrom, Macy’s West and Parisian. The shoes are produced through a licensing agreement with the GFW Group, which Casual Corner will continue.
“We are very enthusiastic about the opportunities inherent in this powerful brand name,” said Claudio Del Vecchio, president and chief executive officer of The Casual Corner Group.
He said the brand represents a different consumer audience and new channel of distribution for the group.
“I’ve known the Vittadinis for over 20 years and I see this as a great marriage of two parties that share the same vision for reestablishing the Adrienne Vittadini name as one of the premier designer brands in the industry,” added Mark Shulman, Casual Corner’s chief operating officer.
“We’re not going to roll out a zillion stores, but we see a lot of potential with this label,” Shulman said. “It’s a wonderful name that hasn’t been bastardized all over the place.”
He said Vittadini stores would be launched no sooner than fall 2002, considering the time required to form a team, design a store prototype and create products. He estimated opening around 10 stores in the period between 2002-2003 and stressed that Vittadini will be a separate division with its own division head.
“You will never find Adrienne Vittadini products in any of our Casual Corner stores,” Shulman promised. “This is an entirely separate business.” Newmark Retail Financial Advisers represented de V&P Inc. in the deal.
The Casual Corner Group, owned by the Del Vecchio family, operates stores nationwide under the Casual Corner, Petite Sophisticate and August Max nameplates. They had a combined volume of slightly more than $800 million last year. The Del Vecchio family also controls the Luxottica Group.
The group for the past two years has been revamping stores and merchandise, in an effort, as Del Vecchio recently said, to “once again be a major specialty player in the U.S.”
Asked if Casual Corner is in the market for additional brands to purchase, Shulman replied: “Right now we are not. But down the road, maybe.”
Launched in 1979, Adrienne Vittadini became a prominent label in the Eighties. The Vittadinis sold the business in 1996 to Marisa Christina, who created two product lines: a bridge collection reflecting casual career dressing with sweaters in novelty yarn, stitches and textures; and a better-priced, knitwear-driven line including casual weekend and weekday dressing alternatives.
In July 1999, Marisa Christina sold it to de V&P, formed by Maura de Visscher and Kimberly Perrone, two former GFT executives. Cash-flow problems forced de V&P Inc. into bankruptcy court last January.
Designer Adrienne Vittadini is no longer involved in the business, but in a statement Tuesday she said, “I am extremely excited about the acquisition by Claudio Del Vecchio. I feel Mr. Del Vecchio will do an outstanding job in maintaining the integrity, image and the aesthetics of all the products.”
Shulman added: “We would welcome her input.”

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